Petition seeks primary system change

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, August 11, 2011

Among the many problems the public has withthe election process, one that some are aiming to do somethingabout lies in the nature of the state’s primary system itself.

    Marla Nottingham is one such Lincoln County citizen who decided tovoice her displeasure with the current primary system in whichregistered voters must decide whether they want to vote on theRepublican ballot or the Democratic ballot before casting anyvotes.

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    Nottingham, a resident of Bogue Chitto, has developed anddistributed a petition around Lincoln County calling for changingthe current system to an open one in which there is one ballot andany registered voter can vote for any candidate.

    “Frustration and anger have motivated me,” Nottingham said. “Tomake me have to pick a party ballot in order to vote, that shouldbe my choice. I deserve to have the right to vote the way I want tovote.”

    Nottingham, an independent, went to the primaries Aug. 2 expectingto be turned away when she arrived at her precinct. She thought shewould not be allowed to vote because she was not Republican orDemocrat.

    Upon learning at the polls that she could vote, she furtherrealized she could not vote for Republicans and Democrats – the wayshe desired – but rather had to pick one party’s ballot or theother.

    “A man came in (to vote, too) and said, ‘Somebody needs to dosomething about this,'” she recalled about a fellow voter whoshared her view that the current system robs citizens of theirfreedom of choice. “I said, ‘I will,’ and now I’ve started thispetition.”

    Nottingham has distributed the petition to several locations aroundBrookhaven, including Wand’s Seed, Brookhaven Milling, GatlinFeeds, Ms. Bea’s, Bob’s Sandwich Shop, Janie’s Pastries, Granny’sCorner, NAPA Auto Parts, Whistlestop Motorcycles and PerkinsHardware.

    She said other people have helped her circulate the petition toother places around the area as well.

    “In three days, I got the petition back that had been at the Bankof Brookhaven with over 200 signatures,” she said. “And I didn’teven know I had one there.”

    Her main goal is to garner as many signatures as she can and gofrom there.

    “I’ll take it to the top if I have to,” she said. “I mainly justwant to spread this concern by word of mouth. I’m hoping we’ll getsomeone’s attention.”

    In an informal, unscientific poll on the DAILY LEADER’S websiteasking what kind of election system people preferred, 95 percentsaid they preferred an open system, 4 percent said the current onewas fine and 1 percent preferred a closed system.

    According to the National Conference for State Legislatures,Mississippi has somewhere between an open and a closed primary, ora “hybrid” primary, in that voters affiliated with a party or notaffiliated with a party can vote. They have to make a choice,however, to vote Republican or Democrat, and once they do they haveto remain consistent with that choice.

    Nottingham said this system is flawed, and restrains people frommaking their own decisions. The system she and many Lincoln Countyresidents who have already signed the petition hope for is onewhere any voter has total freedom of choice on one ballot thatlists all candidates.

    “My hope is that maybe my 14-year old son, in four years, can govote for the first time and truly have the right to choose forhimself,” she said. “Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m going to try.”